Wharfedale 19 v Blackheath 22
An enthralling contest and a credit to both teams, who with National League One safety guaranteed, looked to play open, attacking rugby despite the revolting conditions. With never more than a converted score separating the sides, Blackheath were required to come from behind on three occasions and it won’t cheer the hosts, who on their final home league game of the season were celebrating careers of former players, that the only time the visitors led was at the final whistle.
But although Wharfedale had their own chances to take a fourth, and probably decisive, advantage late in proceedings, Richard Windsor’s try in the final play was no more than Blackheath deserved for their tenacity and an inspirational performance from their captain Tom Bason.
Nevertheless, the signs were far less positive for the visitors in the opening minutes. As Blackheath began with the horizontal rain and Threshfield slope against them, their makeshift front-row immediately came under massive pressure, conceding a penalty from the first set-scrum from which Dale hooker Luke Cole was driven across for a converted score following the resultant line-out.
For Blackheath, progress up field was harder fought, but with good work in turning over possession in the loose, and James Cleverly making yardage, territory was won. A break from Jack Walsh and Joe Hardy, making his debut on the right-wing, led to a promising move which ended with the greasy ball slipping forward, but at the end of the first quarter, Windsor took possession from an attempted chip out of defence, Dave Allen and Markus Burcham took play forward, before Gavin O’Meara off-loaded for James Catt to ground the ball against the padding of the upright.
More pressure on the Blackheath scrum led to a turnover in the Club twenty-two and a gorgeous line-break and pass from full-back Dan Scarbrough saw Luke Peters across, restoring the Dalesmen’s seven-point advantage, but again the home side was pegged back.
The introduction of Des Brett would lead to a more productive second period at the set-scrum, but for now the veteran tight-head’s first task was to provide the main piston that powered a mighty drive on 40 minutes following Bason’s take of O’Meara’s throw at the line-out. As Allen stormed forward to set the ruck close the Wharfedale goal-line, the ball was moved infield, where Simon Whatling picked up neatly from his toes and passed for Burcham to cross for the Club’s second try, the fly-half’s conversion giving parity at 14-14 at the break.
Wharfedale had won the reverse fixture at Rectory Field in December with a Tom Barrett drop-goal but, given the conditions, it was no surprise to see the Greens’ fly-half attempt at the same procedure fall wide after the interval. However, before long a break from scrum-half Matt Dudman produced another beautifully executed move culminating in Peters gliding through for a second try on the outside-centre’s debut, moving the Dalesmen ahead once more.
But again the hosts couldn’t find another score which might have put the game out of reach, even as Blackheath were temporarily reduced to 14-men, and on the hour-mark Bason, who ruled the line-out and stretched out his long arms on occasion to pluck high balls out of the damp greyness that enveloped the Yorkshire Dales, switched an attacking move to the short side before off-loading a beauty of a miss-pass for Hardy to score and level at 19-19.
Both sides had periods of pressure to break the deadlock, Wharfedale coming close in the 76th minute with another lovely move only for the rain to interfere once more and the ball slip from grasp, and with Richard Pike entering the fray and making his presence felt with some customary hard-work around the fringes, the Green Machine was held at bay.
In general, Blackheath had had the best of the second period, and as time ticked away Bason, inevitably, collected Nick Grier’s throw to the line-out and as the attack rolled forward, Whatling found Windsor in enough space to drift wide for the winning score.
Blackheath’s final league game on Saturday 26th April sees them host Doncaster at Rectory Field with the visitors requiring victory to secure a position in the Championship.
The following day, the Club make the short trip to Foots Cray RFC where they will defend the Kent Cup against London Two South Champions Gravesend.
Tries: Cole, Peters 2
Conv: Barrett 2
Tries: Catt, Burcham, Hardy, Windsor
Conv: Whatling 2